A few days ago an old primary school-mate got very angry with me, for something I said.
I didn’t really get it at that time. I felt that the innocuous term I used was acceptable in our modern lexicon. But he got very offended, and took me to task.
It happened in private, so my own anger that could have been ignited for being unfairly misunderstood, was easily controlled.
I did what I have learnt to do, which is to deal with the situation by first listening, then apologising, and finally hoping to explain.
Unfortunately, the other party didn’t seem interested in any form of explanation or reconciliation.
It then dawned on me that perhaps the anger he felt was something deeper, and had nothing to do with what I said. Perhaps there were historical or unresolved issues from our past, or it could have been more of a reflection about how he felt about himself, rather than my passing remark.
So I removed myself from the conversation, and in my mind, wished him all the peace he needed.
The episode unsettled me for a bit but then I decided to move on with my busy day.
A day later it I revisited what had happened, to think about what my role was in this whole episode. Often I park things aside, and come back with an uncluttered mind some time later, to see if I could have done anything better.
I believe this is called “action research”. It offers me real learning when I am able to reflect on what I did wrong and how I could have done things better.
It occurred to me that taken out of context, the term I had used could be construed as being inappropriate. But as hard as I tried, I still couldn’t really figure out what had upset this fella so much.
Sometimes you write situations or people off. And, I decided this was one of those moments.
I had hardly interacted with him in the last thirty years. We couldn’t be considered friends by any stretch of the imagination. And, if he didn’t want a relationship with me, aside from my ego being slightly bruised, there was no tangible loss for me.
But then I thought of so many similar situations that the people I have coached through my executive leadership coaching sessions have been in. They work with colleagues who get mad at them for things that they don’t understand.
Just like what happened to me, it comes as a bolt of out of the blue.
The only difference is that I walked away from this guy, because he had no impact on me, or my daily life. It did not matter to me for more than a second, what he thought of me.
Whereas, when my coachees have had comparable situations at their workplaces, there is no escape.
These types of problems will occur regularly at your workplace, and if you do not find some solution, it will fester and lead to much deeper complications.
I get commissioned by my clients to work with their teams to help them recalibrate, and re-establish group dynamics. And, if there is disconnect with their staff, I find that often it stems from deep seated distrust, and a lack of willingness to collaborate.
And nearly always, the distrust is built on some harmless verbal spat from a long time ago, or an argument that never got resolved, or a flash point of rudeness that was never dealt with.
Here are some methods that I have recommended to the people I coach to manage any fallout before it gets out of control.
The fundamental thing you must get right at your workplace is to ensure that positive behaviour and rational problem solving become the standard behavioural procedure for your team.
You must start by looking at your recruitment process. Concentrate on hiring people who have a positive attitude to work and interact with others amicably.
Next is for you to remember that behaviour filters down from the top. If your managers cannot control their temper, then this will influence others in your team. I work with “angry” companies. And at root, the problem lies with the CEO.
Composed, respectful and well-adjusted leaders always set the standard for what professional behaviour is, and this in turn, motivates their team to behave appropriately.
People in your organisation must realise that senior staff will not themselves take an aggressive approach, and more importantly, they will not tolerate such behaviour in others, therefore no one can get away with acting up at the workplace.
Both the above techniques I advocate will not totally eliminate anger problems, but they will reduce down incidences of undue nastiness.
Your team also needs to be trained.
Your team needs to know how to deal with confrontational situations and know that they cannot react negatively to aggressive team members. Managers need to understand how to de-escalate situations and take swift disciplinary action.
Set up a zero-tolerance approach and you will quell anger related issues at your workplace, swiftly.
Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”